The Manser Practice's experience of planning

In the 1980s Michael Manser, chairman and founder of the company became involved in RIBA politics becoming president of the RIBA from 1983 to 1985. In the event his ‘presidential’ years were largely overtaken by the intervention of Prince Charles in to the output of the profession but his original plan had been to try, within the RIBA, to get planning legislation changed so that the process of getting planning permission for a project became simpler, quicker and less unpredictable.

Sadly, in many ways, 30 years later the unpredictability in the planning system and the delay that it causes is still the most infuriating element at the beginning of a project. Whilst the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) seems like a worthwhile attempt to make the process less cumbersome it will achieve little if the impact it has is as diminished as that of the now (too) well established Pre Planning Application (PPA) process.

In principal the PPA is a sensible proposal to enable local authority planners to give advice to developers before an application is made. Too often, however, we are finding, that the advice when it eventually arrives accounts to little more than a list of relevant policies and some scoping as to necessary technical aspects that will need to accompany an application.

The ‘advice’ part is missing. Clearly this is also the most difficult part for an officer to express an opinion about, particularly as factors such as public opinion and sub committee councilor decisions are, by definition, not to be predicted at this informal and confidential stage of the process.

Nonetheless advice that got closer to explaining whether the officers’ ‘interpretation’ of relevant policies could probably lead to a recommendation for approval – or the opposite – would be a good deal more helpful.

One of the services we offer clients is the ability, sometimes, to gain a planning approval, where everyone else has said it is difficult, verging on the impossible. Knowing the size of the mountain we have to climb in these circumstances would enable us and our clients to make more informed decisions about how to set about the process of the ascent.